Released April 14th, 12:30 p.m., CST.
The Franklin (TN) Civil War preservation community continues to have much to celebrate when it comes to reclaiming hallowed ground, land that played a crucial role during the American Civil War (1861-1865) . In 2007, in partnership with the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT), a small portion (i.e., one-half acre) of the original Carter family garden was purchased for future posterity and remembrance of the horrific action that took place just 50 feet south of the present Carter House grounds. The half acre of land cost $210,000.00. The Battle of Franklin Trust, which stewards the Carter House grounds property, is hosting a dedication ceremony this Saturday at the site.
Preservationist and author Robert Hicks said, “With the creation of the Battle of Franklin Trust and all of it’s plans for the future and with the ongoing work of Franklin’s Charge, as it moves forward to reclaim the battlefield around the cotton gin, reconstruct the gin and the historic trench line, Franklin may prove itself the national model for battlefield preservation it’s often touted to be.”
The Federal or Union defensive line (in discussion here) lay basically across an East-West diagonal line on the western side of Columbia Pike, just 50-60 feet in front of the present day Carter grounds. That line was an entrenchment that was dug by Union soldiers probably in the early morning hours of November 30th, 1864. The Carter family had a small family vegetable garden that is believed to have originally been a two acre parcel of land, about 50 feet south west of where the slave cabin is presently located.
Many Union soldiers’ letters and diaries record men having spent several hours the morning of the 30th hastily and hurriedly digging trench works along this line. This defensive line, also known as earthworks, or breastworks, was a significant reason why the Union side at Franklin saw modest casualties-killed (about 150), while the Confederates suffered a staggering amount, (around 1,700), according to Fred Prouty. Historian Eric Jacobson says those numbers are probably even too low. He believes there were probably 300 Federal killed at Franklin.
During the excavation on the original Carter family garden site, the team also unearthed partial human remains, probably from a Civil War soldier, and other related military items. Archaeologist Larry McKee has been working on the project and is expected to release his report in a few weeks. Robert Hicks of Franklin’s Charge said, “The fact that human remains were found there simply reminds all of us how hallowed the battlefield — all the battlefield at Franklin — is.”
- Carter house grounds, garden was left (west) of the man standing
An army that fought behind defensive earthworks had a distinct advantage against assaulting troops, especially if the defending army also had artillery support. The Union armies at the Battle of Franklin had the advantage of both. Thus, as Jacobson says (p. 374 below), the ” . . . cards were stacked against them [the Rebels] almost from the start”.
I own a letter from a Union soldier who fought at Franklin for the 63rd Indiana (on the far eastern Union flank) named Addison Lee Ewing. His first letter after Franklin states the following:
“There is no quicker way of suffering this war than by having Rebs charge our works when they invariably get whipped.”
Ewing said it well, the Confederates at Franklin “got whipped”, and the biggest reason was because of the defensive earthworks.
Casting the larger significance of the Carter garden section of the battlefield, historian Eric Jacobson captures it best:
“The significance of the western edge of the Carter garden cannot be overstated. Around 4:30 p.m. on November 30, 1864, elements of Gen. John Brown’s Confederate Division ripped through the main Federal line of defense west of Columbia Pike. Among the units forced to withdraw was the 72nd Illinois Infantry, which held the section of the line which cuts through the garden property. The Illinois troops fell back to a reserve line held by the 44th Missouri Infantry. Only a firm stand by the Missourians prevented Brown’s troops from collapsing more of the Federal defensive position. The garden property was enveloped by a hail of relentless fire for hours and three separate charges made by Federal troops to retake the main line were unsuccessful. The Confederates held the outside of the main line until they started to withdraw around 9 p.m.”
Hoosier Lee Ewing paints the picture in vivid language that only a first-hand participant could have described that day:
“Colonels and Generals rode right up to our faces bringing their men in fine style but “blue coats” wouldn’t budge back one inch and there fell victims to their own mad actions. A person could walk over acres of dead . . . stepping on one dead body to another. It was a terrible slaughter. ”
– Lee Ewing, 63rd Indiana, December 5th, 1864 letter
The Tennessee Wars Commission provided the grant to Franklin’s Charge for the excavation of the Carter garden area. An archaeological team led by Larry McKee – with TRC Garrow Associates Inc. – found material evidence of that awful day, unearthed just several inches below the surface in the present-day Carter garden. Jacobson says that the team “excavated about 2/3rds of the Federal line that runs diagonally across the property”. They dug down roughly 20 inches and discovered the material evidence including: lots of bullets (Spencers), some fired and some dropped; ram rods, a bayonet, evidence of a fire pot, and human remains.
Among the human remains was “a piece of a skull, a finger, part of an ankle, and portion of femur-leg bone”, according to Fred Prouty. It would be impossible to know for sure if the human remains were Confederate or Union. However, we do know that it would have been Federal soldiers who would have dug the earthworks and originally manned them.
They dug down from the surface about 18-24 inches and then piled the dirt up in front of the trench, on the south side of the trench. Soldiers would have then placed head logs, branches, and anything they else they could have found around them (including portions of Carter outbuildings, barns, etc,) on the top of the piled dirt in front. In all, the earthworks would have been roughly five to six feet high, thus giving the Federals a tremendous advantage of protection against the assaulting Confederate troops.
The Federals also had the advantage of artillery placed on the line as well as about 50 yards behind the line. As the approaching Rebels came upon the earthworks they faced a terrible blaze of fire from the Federals in this section, some of whom apparently even had Spencer rifles. A Spencer was a ‘repeating rifle’, capable of firing seven .52 cartridges in less than 10 seconds, compared to the standard Enfield rifle that could yield up to three discharges in one minute.
The discovery of the Spencer bullets is interesting as historian Eric Jacobson pointed out. The Illinois troops in that position did not have Spencer rifles. So where did they likely come from? Jacobson thinks they came from the 28th Kentucky Infantry (U.S.) who was posted a mile out front in Wagner’s brigade (U.S.), before the assault started. Wagner’s entire line made for a hasty retreat immediately upon the start of Hood’s charge and skeedaddled back behind the Union line. As the retreating Union soldiers came flying up and over the entrenchments on the Carter garden they no doubt dropped some Spencer bullets, and many also joined the Illinoisians on the line, discharging their rifles against the coming Rebel onslaught.
Three weeks after the battle of Franklin, Lee Ewing (63rd Indiana Infantry U.S.) came back through Franklin on the 20th of December, chasing after Hood’s defeated Army of Tennessee retreating to Alabama from Nashville. Ewing may have been standing right near the Carter gardens when he wrote this:
“. . . we was at Franklin where there are hundreds of new made graves filled by the Enemy. I went into the old breastworks where we lay and all over the front of our Brigade which is pretty well dotted over with rebble graves . . . There are dead horses laying around. Some of them almost up over our old works.”
– Lee Ewing, 63rd Indiana, December 22nd, 1864 letter
The Battle of Franklin Trust will host a ceremony and dedication this Saturday, April 17th, to formally open the recaptured tract of land that served as the garden for the Carter family. The public is invited to attend this free event which will be held from 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
The Franklin community’s preservation efforts are led and championed by many people, many behind the scenes, and from all over the nation. Robert Hicks said:
Truth is, this hallowed ground — the battlefield at Franklin, like the history of the battle, itself, is our nation’s patrimony. The reclamation of the back portion of the Carter Garden Plot could never have been possible without the passionate work of Thomas Cartwright, the CWPT and a host of individual donors, nation-wide. While it was supported by the many individual preservation organizations in Franklin that make up Franklin’s Charge, along with the collective support from Franklin’s Charge, itself, as we dedicate the garden plot, we are remind, once again that this was a national campaign and its success rests firmly on the shoulders of men and women across the nation.
- Eric Jacobson, Battle of Franklin Trust historian and Director of Operations
Phone interview 4/13/10; email correspondence; and personal conversations.
Also see Jacobson’s For Cause and For Country, 2006 (Hb): pp. 373-74.
- Fred Prouty, Director of Programs for the TN Wars Commission.
4/12/10 FCWRT, and phone interview 4/13/10
- Robert Hicks, Franklin’s Charge, email interview 4/13/10
- Kraig McNutt Civil War Collection, letter(s) from A. Lee Ewing, 63rd Indiana.
For more information:
- Flickr photo gallery of the Carter garden section
- YouTube gallery of videos of the Carter garden section
This is great hopefully more of the surrounding property can be reclaimed and restored as well as that around the Cotton Gin site and other areas.
Its never lost forever only borrowed and all we have to do is take it back inch by inch a little at a time here and there until you can piece it back together.
How interesting it is to hear about this notorious battle !
I am especially intrigued to read that Mr Jacobson reckons that 300 Union troops were killed in action at Franklin. This indicates the extent to which the officially posted total of 189 needs to be adjusted upwards to allow for some of the 1,109 missing who were, presumably, killed. The yankees did abandon the field, didn’t they ? This would account for some of their dead being posted as missing instead of killed. I think it is important to emphasise this, since it alllows us to appreciate that the fighting was not so one sided as the oft cited 189 to 1,750 KIA would have us believe.
On top of the 300 yankees who were killed in the battle, might we assume that perhaps 200 more would have died of their wounds in the ensuing daya and weeks ? Perhaps the final disparity in fatalities was not the nine to one ratio against the South that many commentators would have us believe, but more like four of five to one.
Thank you for this interesting piece, Kraig. I’ve been fascinated with this battle from several angles ever since I discovered a letter published in The Confederate Veteran (Vol. VII, p. 408) by my great grandfather, N.R. Oakes of the 32nd Miss. Reg. He wrote about one of his friends killed in the hailstorm that day: “The Confederacy lost one of her bravest when Comrade [Miley] Steele fell dead at Franklin on top of the breastworks to the left of the pike leading from Columbia into the town. He was never heard to murmur or to disobey, and professed great faith in the cause of the South and in the ability of our leaders. Above all, he was a true Christian, having joined the church at Dalton, Ga., a fact which his relatives never knew.” I wonder if it is possible to pinpoint that location or the path taken that day. Do you know how might I find out if Steele may be buried at McGavock?
Hi Mark, your best bet is to contact Eric Jacobson, who is the resident historian at Carnton Plantation. He knows almost all there is to know about the Battle of Franklin and will be able to provide details of the movements of the 32nd Miss. His book, “For Cause and For Country”, about the battle, is excellent. He has also written a compilation book which lists those buried in the McGavock Confederate Cemetery. Visit http://www.carnton.org for details. I have transcribed the names of those buried at Carnton onto a spreadsheet and cannot find anyone by the name of Steele on the list, although there are 11 members of the 32nd Miss. buried there that I can see. Note, there are a vast number of ‘Unknown’ soldiers in the Cemetery.
Kraig. What a great article on the Carter garden reclamation. Thanks for the coverage. It was a memorable occasion. Rick
Thank you for the excellent article. We are living in a great period in Franklin’s Battlefield Preservation history!.
Mary Pearce, Heritage Foundation
What a great story! I published it on the Tennessee Commerce Bank Facebook Fan page. I hope you don’t mind.
Kraig – This is a wonderful piece of work. Living in the area, I always want to know more of the history of Franklin, and this is very educational.
I pulled into the Franklin Battle Field in 2009 asking directions of three different people in town and not one even knew of the battle.To me this was one of the greatest dramas of the civil war.Keep up the hard work because there will aways be a generation in the furture that will be astounded by it.